Auckland – Billy West is on our flight today (the second coolest Billy on the whole airplane). We’re pretty excited about this, as close to geeked-out as we get in our old age. We cut our teeth on Ren and Stimpy and Futurama is our best friend.
When we land, no less than seven people meet us at the airport. They introduce themselves not in their professional capacities, but by their first names, so we really have no idea what any of them are doing there. They seem nice though and they carry guitars and suitcases, so we go with them willingly, us being free spirits and all.
And they do, in fact, bring us to our hotel after working out who should ride with whom in whose car and who gets to carry the equipment in whose boot, etc., all the while apologizing for the rain. “Sorry about this. I did request better weather for you,” says a sunny young man named Jim.
“Yeah? Who do you know, God?”
“My cousin went to school with him. He’s my in.”
“That’s a pretty good in.”
“Yeah, well…” he puts his hand out to feel the rain. “It is usually.”
All seven Kiwis get out of their cars and go into the hotel with us, still carrying our stuff and chatting pleasantly. We try to figure out what their actual jobs are with subtly ham-fisted questions, to no avail.
“Oh, fine. Busy.”
Seven people will hover around us the entire time we’re in this country and we will never figure out exactly who they are. They all know each other and they seem to know us, and they’re all swell human beings who appear to be working on either the record or the tour, but exactly how, we’re never sure. Every now and then, one will leave and be replaced by someone else who also knows the group and us, is pleasant and helpful, but whose role is as mysterious as the person’s that he or she replaced. We figure there is a promoter, a tour manager, a publicist and…well, we don’t really get much farther than that.
Since they are all lovely and I don’t have to be in charge of anything but the shows, I just leave it be. I do try to keep the conversations about work to a minimum so as not to embarrass myself. There are plenty of other things to talk about, of course and I find that most people in the music business hate it as much as I do and are relieved when you don’t make them talk about it.
Our first night in Auckland is a little dismal after the fun people leave. Auckland is completely unrecognizable to us. We remembered it as a watery city like Seattle: hilly and beachy. It is watery, but only because it’s raining so hard. We’re staying downtown and tonight downtown Auckland looks more like Detroit. Just not what we expected. We hunker down in our hotel room and watch anime DVD’s Bodhi’s brothers gave him for bedtime stories.
In the morning, I have a session at Radio New Zealand. Some members of the gang pick us up and drive us around the corner. I feel guilty. “We really could have walked, you know.”
They are appalled by this thought and refuse to discuss it. They also insist on carrying my guitar. Golly, these people are nice.
During the session, employees of the station gather in the control room to listen. I can’t see or hear them, but Billy says later that the general consensus in the room was that the music wasn’t coming from the person playing it. I will hear this time and again on this tour; people close their eyes when I play because that’s the only way it makes any sense. I’m still trying to figure out what I think about this.
After the session, we’re taken to a restaurant where we meet up with other members of the Kiwi gang and our breakfast is bought. Then we’re driven to a playground so Bodhi can play. “Are you sure you guys want to go to a playground?” we ask them. It can’t be standard rock star treatment.
They insist, of course. They also insist on buying us groceries at a health food store when they see us blanch at the prices. “We’ll just call it the rider…” Golly, these people are nice.
The whole gang comes to soundcheck, takes us out to dinner, hangs in the dressing room, laughing and joking the entire time. It’s like being in a big, happy family. One mystery solved: a member of the gang is actually a musician in the opening band. What the hell he’s doing driving us around for two days is beyond me, but I’m happy to at least know one person’s job.
Sunny Jim carries posters for the show in to the dressing room for me to sign: beautiful posters with a drawing of a beautiful woman on them. “Is that supposed to be me?” I ask him.
He narrows his eyes at me. “What would you like me to say?”
The show sells out which makes them even happier. They all stay and watch my whole set, they all help us pack up, they help us sell my homemade signed t-shirts, then they all bring us back to the hotel, gleefully. I’m going to miss this happy family.
Wellington – Before meeting our friend Paul McKessar from Ye Olde Muses Days for coffee, I check e-mail. Grant Lee Phillips has written me about the earthquake on the south island, asking if it’s my fault. Me and natural disasters are pretty tight, but I don’t see how I can be blamed for this.
At the airport on the way to Wellington, Bo is so jet-lagged, he’s practically high. He lounges on the suitcase. “Mom, where are your tunes?” he asks. I’ve never heard him use this word before. I don’t say tunes. “Did you forget to pack your tunes?”
“Where are your tunes??”
“They’re in her head,” Billy says.
Bo looks up at Billy. “Did she forget to pack her head?”
“Her head? What are you talking about?”
Bo looks back down again and waves Billy off. “Aaah, go mate with a shark.”
Billy looks at me. “Did he just tell me to go fuck myself?”
“Well, not exactly…”
The Kiwi gang is still here, as it turns out. Some of them flew with us, we lost some (they’ve been replaced) but we are still members of a large and very happy family. We are still carted around gleefully, our luggage is carried, our needs met (including finding tropical fish tanks in the airport), the rain apologized for. We still aren’t sure why these people are doing this, but we’re enjoying it so much that we’ve stopped trying to figure it out.
We also see our friend Tanya here in the airport. Tanya lives in Wellington and is flying home after having been to the Auckland show. We met years ago when she was deejaying at a radio station here in New Zealand. She even came to a 50FootWave rehearsal while visiting LA. She appears to know the members of the gang (how small is this country, anyway?) and offers us her house and car for our day off tomorrow. We readily accept; nothing like a taste of home when you’re away, even if it’s someone else’s home.
I do radio in the afternoon, then soundcheck is late because a refrigerator in the club’s kitchen died in the night and now the whole place smells like sour milk. They are inordinately upset about this. I don’t know too many clubs that smell good; I’m not sure I would even have noticed, but club employees scrub floors with baking soda, light scented candles and spray air fresher into fans placed strategically around the room. They’re beside themselves; they can’t stop apologizing. “We’re so sorry, Ms. Hersh!”
“Please don’t call me that. I really don’t care how it smells in here.” I think of some of the places I’ve played. “It could be so much worse.” We stand in a small group, all of us taking a minute to imagine worse smells.
A club guy offers, “Once a mouse died in my bedroom and I didn’t find it for a month.”
The soundman talks through his t-shirt which is covering his nose and mouth. “My roommate threw up in the laundry hamper and didn’t tell anyone.”
The group appreciates this. Oooooh’s and oh man’s. I slip away before the conversation gets any grosser.
Another sell-out tonight makes for a happy gang. I’ve challenged myself with the set I’m playing: trying to play both bass lines and leads, Throwing Muses songs as well as solo songs I rarely play live. It’s far more interesting to me to be able to play catalogue material with my effects pedals rather than a straightforward acoustic set of only the new record, but it’s a little nerve-wracking, too. Especially in these big, packed rooms. Luckily, it seems that these audiences want to hear songs from all the tours that didn’t make it down here as well as new material. Like I said, these people are nice.
Walking from the hotel to the club in the rain right before my set, I step over puddles and garbage and make my way past dumpsters to a fire escape I need to climb in order to get into the dressing room without going through the crowd. It’s funny. Even in this beautiful country, I gotta walk through Meningitis Alley in order to get to work.
The sour milk smell is mostly gone anyway, obliterated by clouds of perfumey goodness. Everyone’s a little dizzy from the headiness of this mixture, but none the worse for it. This is an intensely happy crowd. After the set, I sign many, many CD’s, posters and oddly, t-shirts. “But I already signed your t-shirt,” I argue. “That was the whole point of the signed t-shirts.”
“Please?” they say, smiling.
What can I do? “Alright. Should I sign my name over my name or under it?”
Our day off is as cold, windy and rainy as our days on have been. Tanya picks us up as promised and takes us on a tour of Wellington which includes the ubiquitous (for us) beach and breakfast place which beats out the last breakfast place to become our new favorite. This one was right on the beach.
After a short walk in the damp sand and wild wind (Bodhi’s Melbourne Aquarium hat blew off his head and into the surf — Tanya raced in and retrieved it), we headed for a table by the window and drank endless cups of floral tea while she regaled us with stories of national health programs and shipping container architecture. She even surprised us with dark chocolate that Bodhi and I ate on the drive to her house (“Breakfast dessert!” Bodhi squealed).
Tanya lives on a hilltop which is so windy, satellite pictures of her house taken by insurance companies show an enormous red “X” on the roof, meaning, I suppose, that it will soon blow away. Today, the wind screams and buffets the tiny house, pelting it with rain. It’s not unlike hurricanes I’ve been in. She says her car door has blown off a few times up here. We love it. Bodhi and I race around her back yard, pretending to fly. He does appear to fly for a second which worries me, so I then carry him while we race around the yard.
Back in her cozy living room, Tanya takes out her crafts box and we throw ourselves into paste and sparkles (Bo makes pasty, sparkly sharks — I make pasty, sparkly Bodhi’s) while Billy calls the kids back home. They sound happy and healthy, if a little wistful that they aren’t in New Zealand with us today. We ask them what they want us to bring them.
“A koala,” they decide.
“No koalas in New Zealand,” says Billy. “Try again.”
“Well, what do they have there?”
“Wind,” we answer.
“Okay, bring us some of that.”
In the morning, we wake long, long before dawn, say goodbye to the fish in the aquarium at our hotel and climb sleepily into a taxi which takes us to the aquarium at the airport. Bodhi says goodbye to these fish, too. “Where are we going?” he asks, taking my hand through the departure gate.
“Back to Australia.”
“Do they still have fish there?”
“As far as I know.”
“Phew,” he says.
(thanks to Tanya Fretz for the photo of our table at the Maranui Cafe)